Skip to main content

Even oil companies don't want a 'roasted world'

By Mindy Lubber
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 2112 GMT (0512 HKT)
Twenty five years ago on March 24, more than 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound after Capt. Joseph Hazelwood ran the Exxon Valdez into Bligh Reef. Twenty five years ago on March 24, more than 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Alaska's Prince William Sound after Capt. Joseph Hazelwood ran the Exxon Valdez into Bligh Reef.
HIDE CAPTION
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Exxon Valdez oil spill
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 25 years ago, the Exxon Valdez supertanker created a gigantic oil spill in Alaska waters
  • Mindy Lubber: Top companies such as Exxon are ready to act on climate change
  • She says businesses realize how carbon pollution drags down their bottom lines
  • Lubber: If they don't embrace clean energy now, it may be too late and too expensive

Editor's note: Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes business leaders to embrace a sustainable future. It was founded in response to the Exxon Valdez spill. This is one in a series of columns CNN Opinion is publishing in association with the Skoll World Forum on people who are finding new ways to help solve the world's biggest problems. Lubber will participate in the 2014 Skoll World Forum in Oxford, U.K., from April 9-11.

(CNN) -- When climate scientist Rosina Bierbaum speaks, her central theme is the "roasted world" -- a bleak picture of what the planet will probably look like if carbon pollution continues unchecked, leading to 4 degrees Celsius of warming by mid-century.

Four degrees may not sound like a lot -- but it would change our lives drastically.

Mega-heat waves in 2010 in Europe and Russia were estimated to have caused up to 50,000 heat-related deaths, according to some reports. This "will become the normal," said Bierbaum, a review editor of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, speaking at the U.N. in January. Food production in key regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia could drop by as much as 50%, she added. Accelerated melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets will cause sea levels to rise by 1 to 2 feet, putting Miami and Mumbai, India, as well as many other low-lying cities, at enormous risk.

Mindy Lubber
Mindy Lubber

It's a bone-chilling scenario.

We don't always have control of our destiny, but in the case of climate change we know exactly what it will take to protect our planet and economy from disaster. Companies, investors and policymakers must scale up clean energy investments and scale down fossil fuel investments.

Recently, we saw compelling evidence that big business is getting more serious about climate change. And it came from none other than the world's largest fossil fuel company, Exxon Mobil.

Nearly 25 years to the day after the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Alaska, spewing 260,000 barrels of crude oil, Exxon has agreed to report to investors on how climate change will affect its core business model, including the prospect that major portions of its oil reserves may need to be left in the ground as carbon-reducing policies and expanded use of renewable energy take hold globally.

U.S. oil production since Exxon Valdez

Simulator shows Exxon Valdez mishap
Exxon Valdez oil spill harmed wildlife

I remain guarded about how major oil companies will ultimately transition to being energy companies rather than fossil fuel companies, boosting our economy sustainably rather than pushing it closer to a breaking point. But Exxon's commitment reflects a growing consensus among business leaders and investors that climate change is a core economic risk that must be tackled now. This is in stark contrast to just a few years ago, when climate change was seen as a tree-hugger issue relevant more to polar bears than financial bottom lines.

After years of foot-dragging, businesses are recognizing the scientific certainty and economic effects of climate change -- from higher food costs to broken supply chains to costlier weather-related disasters. They see the powerful dollars-and-cents argument for mitigating carbon pollution today rather than waiting until it is too late and too expensive.

Companies such as General Motors, Apple and Starbucks are now calling for strong climate and clean-energy policies in Congress. They are among more than 750 companies that have signed Ceres' Climate Declaration, which brings together companies and individuals to demonstrate support for national action on climate change.

The world's largest institutional investors -- including many of the 500 that attended the U.N. Investor Summit on Climate Risk -- are actively integrating climate risks and opportunities into their investment decisions. Some are already pulling out of riskier carbon-intensive investments such as coal companies and are setting specific targets for elevating clean energy investments.

Major stock exchanges are also beginning to require listed companies to disclose climate and other sustainability risks to investors. And securities regulators, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and state insurance regulators, have taken strong steps, at Ceres and investors' urging, to require similar climate risk disclosure.

These actions are profoundly important if we are to have any hope of thwarting, or limiting, the impact of this colossal global threat, which requires a massive shift in our economy to clean energy and away from fossil fuels.

Solving climate change and building a sustainable global economy cannot happen unless companies and investors realize their role in the problem and become part of the solution.

We are making progress. Yet even as the biggest companies in the world change their business practices and come out in support of strong climate action, it remains a deeply controversial issue in Washington, which has led to policy paralysis. It is unfathomable. We must demand a vigorous debate over how best to meet the climate challenge, casting climate deniers out to the fringe where they now belong.

Unless we act now, the threat that climate change poses to the planet will be exponentially greater. And the solutions will be increasingly harder to implement down the road. The "roasted world" warning is a real threat, but it doesn't need to become our reality.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mindy Lubber.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT